We wanted to title this Confirmation Bias: Helpful Insider Facts Nobody Told You About. But we stopped. We realized it was confirmation bias leading us to a bad decision. How could we predict what we were about to tell you would be completely new to you?
We have a business story a little later in this article that centers around the idea of this ubiquitous bias. Read on.
What is Confirmation Bias?
According to the American Psychological Association, confirmation bias is the tendency to look for information that supports, rather than rejects, one’s preconceptions, typically by interpreting evidence to confirm existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring any conflicting data.
According to Bettina J. Casad, confirmation bias is the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.
While early proofs of confirmation bias appeared in psychological literature around 1960, the phrase “confirmation bias” was first used in a 1977 paper by Mynatt, Doherty, & Tweney.
There are 3 types of confirmation bias:
- Biased Memory
- Biased Interpretation
- Biased Search For Information
Why Do Humans Have Confirmation Bias?
1. To handle large amounts of information
Every day and even every minute, our brains get bombarded by limitless amounts of information from our environment. Confirmation bias is a quick and efficient way to process that large data.
If we were to make an unbiased decision, we would have to objectively analyze every piece of information. That is impossible. Therefore, we only search for information to support our preconceived notions so that we can reach a conclusion.
2. To reduce cognitive dissonance
Another reason for confirmation bias to exist is to reduce cognitive dissonance (a state of mental conflict when you hold two opposing views or beliefs, like the Stoics are happy people! v/s the Stoics are always talking about death, how can they be happy?).
To keep the dissonance levels low, people use confirmation bias to ignore the knowledge that opposes their beliefs and find proof that confirms their beliefs.
3. To protect one’s self-esteem
According to Casad, 2019, people are vulnerable to confirmation bias to guard their self-esteem and prove their views are right. So, they seek knowledge that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs.
We often fall a victim to this. We talk about our support to a political party as they are good, and we defend them even when their scandal becomes public. It’s our self-esteem that we’re protecting first because those words (“These are good guys.”) came out of our mouth.
A Confirmation Bias Story (Example)
Now we’re going to place you inside an imaginary story. It didn’t happen in reality. Please play along.
It started with you stumbling upon a marvelous idea that you believed will help people get over a painful problem in their lives. You knew it instinctively that the people out there were desperately missing it. You just have to get it out of your mind and build a real-world version of it. So, off you went.
Eleven months later, your painstakingly designed product didn’t even sell twenty units. You’d made sure there was a media blitz at launch, and even gave its ads a good run for the last two months.
It was a visionary product, as any innovator could endorse. Strangely, nobody wanted it.
So, you take a gulp of fresh air and finally decide to kill the campaign and stop the bleeding. Hurt, you sit down and begin questioning yourself.
- Were you building a product for a problem that didn’t exist in the actual world?
- Did you ever ask even one of your prospective customers if they actually wanted it?
- Were you building a solution to a need-gap that you realized after a sudden insight?
- Did you think you were right because your friends, and everything you read on the internet, said you were right?
The simple truth is this. You cannot sell something to the people that they never want to buy. Maybe you can fool them once, but they will pay you back by running down your business and your reputation. They will avoid you if you are friends.
The way the consumer thinks and behaves is quite different now. You can’t tell them anymore, “This is what I believe in, and I know this is what you want.” No, they know what they want better than you.
Here comes the next batch:
- Were you trying to sell to people who actually had no shred of interest in you or your product, but you found it out later?
- Did you believe they’ll make instant an emotional decision to buy your product the moment you bring it out because all your analysis and data said so?
- Did you think you’re the next Steve Jobs who could live his entire life proving that people don’t know what they want until you show them?
Let’s get this right. Those were the questions you should have asked yourself before you went into the tunnel without a flashlight.
A Call For Your Confirmation Bias
The story above is an example of confirmation bias.
It’s about why do you tend to steer your story the way only you see it?
At this point, if you’re still there with another idea in your head and a smirk on your face, I’d say that you want to act from your confirmation bias again. Go ahead, build your next product into a perfect reality. Begin right now. No evidence against it can sway you now.
So, once again, what is confirmation bias?
It is a hidden prejudice working deep down in your unconscious mind that makes you take bad decisions. When you have this, you soak up all the pieces that favor your existing beliefs and ignore the bits that challenge your well-set ideas.
This bias can stop us from seeing any situation in all fairness, and thus influence our decisions. So, we end up making poor choices.
Let me tell you this. It is always good to believe in something, and you must. But it is almost never any good to hang on to an idea because you or your friends are bringing in threads of evidence that support your idea. That is a bad case of confirmation bias.
When you act from this, you find and interpret information to endorse an idea in such a way that it becomes immune to all rejection. Even if it was a flawed idea to begin with. As I told you, what it makes you do is soak up all the bits that support your idea, and reject everything else.
The Skeptics Dictionary defines confirmation bias as a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs.
Your confirmation bias makes you feel infallible. It convinces you that your original idea has always been a killer one.
How To Beat Your Confirmation Bias
Stop and think. Ask yourself these:
- Did you begin with assumptions?
- Were you just seeing things to confirm what you already knew?
- Was your idea closed to criticism and conflicting evidence?
If you answer any of these with yes, then you had been a victim of your own confirmation bias?
But there is way to beat it. You don’t need any special training in some abstract method as Bayesian logic. It’s easy to remember, follow, and practice.
Start out with questions and curiosity. Be wary of your ideas holding you in straitjackets. Ask other people’s views with an open and receptive mind.
What You Should Have Done Instead
You should have found your customers first, in your story, that is.
It is safe to believe that in these times you won’t fail because your product had poor design, but because your product doesn’t solve a real human need. You will fail because you did not take any critical feedback. You will fail because you kept your product sealed and wrapped while you perfected it in a vacuum.
Even if it was a poor design, if it had customers you could improve it. The only way you can ever sell your product is by putting it before those who are sure they need it. Find them first. Go out and walk the hard ground to find what do these people do who could someday be your paying customers.
Notice them. Hear them. Engage them.
Feel their hopes. See their dreams. Sense their desires.
Nurture a small army of aficionados first, with an idea, a vision, or a minimal viable product (MVP). You can always keep building your product to incremental perfection at later stages. First, start selling it.
It’s all about what people want. And if you don’t plan to ask them before you build it, then perhaps you actually don’t plan to sell it. Always keep your focus glued to your niche market.Be wary of being caged by your own ideas. Ask others' views with an open mind. Before you build your product, find your customers. Feel their hopes. See their dreams. Sense their desires. Click To Tweet
If tomorrow, another idea of a still more brilliant product comes to you, please don’t rush to build it. Even if it had the potential to change the history of human progress. Don’t be product-obsessed from the beginning. That was the job of Mr. Jobs. Instead, be people-focused.
So, we did place you inside an imaginary story. It didn’t happen actually.
And don’t let it happen. Or, did it happen?
• • •
Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
√ If you enjoyed this, please share it on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn.